SHERIDAN — City Council offered a counter proposal to the contract changes submitted by the local firefighters union earlier this month.
The counter proposal was not acceptable to union representative George Neeson, so he said he would bring another counter proposal to the next council meeting in June.
In the meantime, since the city and union have not reached an agreement on the contract in the allotted 30-day time frame, both parties must name an arbitrator. Neeson named Jeff Hamilton, a firefighter from Oregon who represented Sheridan’s International Association of Fire Fighter Local Union No. 276 in last year’s arbitration. Once the city names an arbitrator, the arbitrators will meet and name a neutral arbitrator who will walk the city and union through further negotiations.
Neeson said the goal is to begin arbitration as soon as possible so the city’s budget process is not hampered.
The third public meeting for negotiations between the city and the union remained tense Monday. This is the first time negotiations have been made public following a Wyoming Supreme Court ruling in December that said all contract negotiations between the union and the city must now be conducted with a quorum of city councilors present.
The crux of the problem is uncertainty on how the process should work.
City Council is following Robert’s Rules of Order to conduct the proceedings as required for public meetings. Following standard procedure, the council relied on city staff and City Attorney Greg Von Krosigk to research, craft and present its counter proposal.
This frustrated Neeson because he said he wanted to negotiate with councilors, not city staff and attorneys.
He said, in the past, a counter proposal was a time for the city to address the union’s proposal and say what they did and did not agree with in a back-and-forth negotiation.
At the meeting Monday, however, the city presented a rewritten contract that was four pages instead of 17. In order to discuss the counter proposal, City Council voted to untable Neeson’s first proposal and amend it by substituting the city’s counter proposal.
Neeson said this made him feel like the counter proposal was being forced on him rather than being a true negotiation. The city said that was how it had to be done in order to be legally formatted as a public meeting.
“It’s not a fair or accurate assessment to say, ‘This is how negotiations have to work; you should have come with proposals last week.’ That’s how it’s been done in the past, but that’s not how it has to work, and that’s not how, after the Wyoming Supreme Court case, it can functionally work anymore,” Von Krosigk said.
Von Krosigk said the city’s rewritten contract was intended to make it more usable and clear because the old contract has been called cumbersome, containing a “hodge podge” of old language from the past 20 years, and the contract proposed by the union at the last council meeting was essentially the old contract.
Neeson said the language is not old; it is what has been agreed upon for years.
Von Krosigk said key differences between the old and new contract included the contract term, scope, merit increase processes and a new section in the “Hours of Work” section.
The city proposed each contract be valid for one year only and terminate on June 30 each year. This is different than past practice that allowed the contract to rollover from year to year until altered or modified by negotiations.
The city also proposed to add the City of Sheridan handbook to the scope of the contract and add a section that says firefighters will be required, when possible, to take off one or two shifts during each 28-day work period in order to limit overtime hours. City Human Resources Director Heather Doke said that is what the department already does in practice so it made sense to include it in the contract.
The city’s contract included the wage scale proposed by Neeson, but it also changed the way merit increases would work. It said merit increases “may” be received if evaluations are satisfactory and are included in the city’s budget. Neeson had changed the section to say merit increases “shall” be received with satisfactory evaluations with consideration of the city’s financial ability to pay.
Neeson also noted several sections that were missing in the city’s new contract, including a lack of language defining overtime, temporary assignments, leave of absence, holidays, residence requirements and more.
The city also said it would not pay firefighters for their time to attend City Council meetings for negotiations as requested by Neeson.
Neeson will prepare a counter proposal for the next City Council meeting.
In other business, City Council tabled an ordinance amending planned unit development regulations. City Planning and Development Director Robert Briggs said this was to allow more time for feedback from developers and the public on the changes.
The council also tabled a request from Robert and Severine Murdoch for a restaurant liquor license for the new Cowboy Cafe, as requested by the Murdochs to allow more time to prepare to open.
Public Works Director Nic Bateson made a presentation in recognition of National Public Works week, which runs Sunday through Saturday.